★★★★☆ - Delicious
“The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity,” by Kristoffer Diaz, is the type of play that could easily be derailed. Winner of the 2008 National Latino Playwriting Award, 2010 Puluitzer Prize finalist for Drama, and 2011 Best New Play Obie Award, it’s easy to see how it could become overwrought and maudlin. Or turn into a complete caricature.
Director Kate St-Pierre treads a fine line and keeps it right where it needs to be. Told in retrospect by the main character, it’s a fast-paced look into the world of professional wrestling. It’s all rigged, it’s all for fun. But, look closer, dig deeper, pay attention, and you find the script is a socio-political commentary from the first bell to the body-slam finish.
Speaking to the audience, sometimes directly engaging with them, Jonas Woolverton takes on Macedonio Guerre (aka The Mace), the lead role and narrator. Weaving back story into a personal narrative, Woolverton is immediately engaging. He’s at once earnest and self-effacing, never confusing the two, and comes off as if he’s speaking off the cuff and right from the heart. His Mace looks perfectly at home in the confines of the wrestling ring where his boyhood dreams have taken him. Coming to terms with the realities of the world, Woolverton beautifully changes his delivery and his demeanor as the play unfolds.
Flinging fistfuls of money, Mychal Fox comes on as the titular, Chad Deity, like gang-busters in what truly is an elaborate entrance, full of fan-fare and bravado. He’s buff, he’s ripped, and he’ll immediately remind of Ali entering and bouncing around the boxing ring, only think bigger. His delivery is broad and fun in a way that not only invokes but invites laughter with spot-on timing. Yet, Fox knows exactly when to bring it down, to appropriately scale it back, when he throws off the robes of his wrestling persona.
Things take a turn with the introduction of Vigneshwar Paduar (aka VP) played by Richard Villafuente. He knows how to play with the audience without becoming too pushy. VP is streetwise and self-absorbed until he begins to realize exactly what is transpiring and Villafuente smoothly slides through the transition. One line in particular is delivered with such timing and tone that it’s at once funny and hits its intended mark.
All three have a tendency to run words together as they try to maintain the tempo of the play, but they could slow down their speech just a tad without hurting the pace.
Everett K. Olson (aka EJO), the man behind the mega-wrestling company they work for is played by Scott Carl McAdam. The ringmaster/announcer side is a bit PT Barnum, slightly over the top. The entrepreneur/marketer, the side that takes the public’s temperature is contemplative with wheels spinning. McAdam brings both sides to bear with natural balance.
Rounding out the cast, holding down three minor roles is Michael Dollar. They’re really thankless roles, but crucial to the unfolding of Mace’s story, and Dollar does a decent job with them.
St-Pierre’s direction keeps the pace high energy, and movement is maintained to use the space well. It feels organically motivated with one exception: At the outset, as the character is being introduced by Mace, Villafuente steals the focus with his basketball antics and portions of Mace’s narrative are lost.
Production values are top notch, and it all plays out on a set designed by Rachel Gordon Smallwood, done up with patriotic perfection. The underbelly of the ring is rigged to bring the sound effects of bone-crushing hurt. The costumes by Rose Scarborough do their part in bringing the wrestling atmosphere to comedic excellence.
Professional wrestling is performance art. The people involved take it very seriously. This production marries seriousness to comedy, and stands center ring with the golden belt.
Before you head over to watch the match, it’s important to note that production dates are altered from the norm due to Woolverton’s Cirque performance schedule.
What: The Elaborate Entrance of Chad deity
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays, October 19 & 26
8 p.m. Thursdays October 20 & 27
8 p.m. Saturday October 15
2 p.m. Saturdays October 22 & 29
2 p.m. Sundays October 16, 23 & 30
Where: Art Square Theatre, 1025 S First St, #110
Tickets: $16 - $20 (www.cockroachtheatre.com, 702- 818-3422)
Grade: **** Delicious